Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Clash of Civilizations

Robert Gates, US defense secretary, asserts that “the demilitarization of Europe — where large swaths of the general public and political class are averse to military force and the risks that go with it — has gone from a blessing in the 20th century to an impediment to achieving real security and lasting peace in the 21st.” It was easy to question the "Americans are from Mars, Europeans are from Venus" thesis in 2003, when Robert Kagan published Of Paradise and Power and American swagger was at its peak. It is less easy now.

Although the immediate issue is the Afghan War, about which reasonable people can disagree, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that Europeans have become free riders on the American military-industrial complex, with consequences that are good for neither side. It may be true that Obama has mismanaged the opportunity to work toward greater multilateralism. It may be true that Europe does not interest him. But it is also true that the lack of European coordination, and the unwillingness of European leaders to spend much if any political capital on defining, let alone paying for, defense needs, have become increasingly exasperating even to those American officials sympathetically disposed to Europe and aware of the cultural factors that shape European politics in this regard. Gates' words are a warning shot. Sarkozy, who saw himself as a bridge-builder in the Bush era, might want to find a constructive way to respond to them. Or he may be content to send Michel Drucker to a French air base in Afghanistan. It will no doubt reassure the French public to see Drucker on his comfortable red couch amid the fighter jets: how can anyone claim that France is not doing its part? The Pentagon is unlikely to tune in, however.

10 comments:

CJWilly said...

"Security" is a pretty Orwellian term today. So when Americans lecture Europeans on "free-riding on their security" - at a time when security threats are near absent and often not suited to military solutions - really we are hearing a lament for lack of faith in this or that American crusade.

Europe needs a common defense for the eventuality when it will be necessary. If, when a threat emerges, the Europeans are still not prepared *and* the Americans cause more good than harm, we can begin to talk of "free-riding".

(And no, I don't think depriving Saddam Hussein of Kuwait's oil in 1991 or getting involved (for good and ill) in the Balkans had anything to do with anything but the most expansive definition of "security".)

satchmo said...

Juan Cole's headline is very à propos:

"Gates wants Europe to beggar itself on War Expenditures the Way the US Has"

Indeed. Cole's brief but, I think, excellent commentary is at: http://www.juancole.com/

Unknown said...

Satchmo,
Yes, on the whole I agree with Cole, but I want to give a little air to the counterargument, that if Europe would spend somewhat more, then it **might** be possible to tame the political forces in the US that insist on constantly spending more. Perhaps that's a pipe dream. But I do think that, even if there can be no doubt that America has gone to war in many places where it shouldn't have, it remains true that Europe is free-riding by underfunding defense and that Gates is right to call attention to this.

yabonn said...

I don't think "militarism as a virtue" has a market in modern Europe.

brent said...

Maybe if the American government had spent its military dollars more wisely, and actually purchased the world some 'security' (whatever that might mean), Gates' case to the Europeans wouldn't seem so ludicrous. But honestly, looking at the fraudulent, mismanaged mess the US made in Iraq, and now the increasingly sisyphean farce in Afghanistan, what 'ally' in its right mind would want to entrust more of its troops to the Imperial Power?

Anonymous said...

Who are you and what have you done with the real Arthur Goldhammer?

Unknown said...

Yes, good point, I wasn't myself when I wrote this. It was a strange moment of neocon faiblesse.

Unknown said...

Not that I know anything about the military, but it would seem to me that the first Gulf War was funded by various american allies such as the saudis or the japanese. In the case of the present wars,they are unfunded and have resulted in a massive US deficit (surely not the only cause, but one of the two or three major causes of the deficit). So it makes sense at this time for Gates to lecture Europe and others on the fact that they aren't spending enough on the military and, amongst other things, are not funding the wars that the US wants to have but doesn't want to pay for. As I recall, W. Nordhaus has some pretty interesting calculations on their cost.
In other news there was a very interesting interview of Zbignew Brezinsky (can't get the spelling right, sorry) on the origins of US involvement in Afghanistan and its reasons. Carter's presidency might have to be reassessed as some sort of strategic masterstroke.

Unknown said...

OK, to make up for my lapse, here is some ammunition for the anti-Gates side:
http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/matthewyglesias/~3/cUDlsiD4RwE/a-piece-of-the-action.php

CJWilly said...

We're sectarians at heart :-)